The ALT key does a few useful things that you haven’t seen yet.
Internet Explorer 8 originally was installed with the menu turned off at the top. Few people use the menu and it takes up space onscreen. It’s easy to turn on by right-clicking on the toolbars and choosing “Menu Bar,” but Microsoft found people were confused when the menu was missing. At some point the installation was changed to show the menu by default. You might or might not have a menu at the top of Internet Explorer 8.
If the menu is not displayed, hitting the ALT key will turn it on temporarily so you can click on it. Once you know that, you can turn off the menu and gain a little extra space for web pages.
In Windows 7, the various Windows Explorer windows (Computer, Documents, Control Panel, etc.) have buttons at the top but no menu. Hitting the ALT key exposes the familiar File / Edit / View / Tools / Help menu.
But wait, there’s more!
When you hit ALT in almost any program, the menu appears with an underlined letter in each item. Hitting that letter on the keyboard will drop that menu – and each item on the menu that drops down will have an underlined letter for each command. It’s frequently faster to do simple tasks with the keyboard than by moving your hand off to the mouse.
The really interesting effect happens in Office 2007 programs with ribbon bars, where there are no menus. When you hit the ALT key in Word 2007, this is what it looks like. (Click to see full-size.)
You can change to any ribbon bar by hitting ALT, then hitting the letter displayed under each one. When you hit one of those letters, the chosen ribbon bar appears, and now the ribbon bar is festooned with keystrokes that will execute any command on the bar. In the screen above, this is what I got after clicking the letter “H” for the Home bar. There are so many that some of them take two keystrokes, one after the other.
Interesting, eh? If you have buttons in Word or Excel 2007 that you click frequently, you might want to learn some of the keyboard combinations.